NBC News

Fake Science Led a Mom to Feed Bleach to Her Autistic Sons — and Police Did Nothing to Stop Her

“Health misinformation has started to infiltrate more mainstream,” said Dr. Brittany Seymour, an assistant professor at Harvard University’s School of Dental Medicine

Laurel Austin documented her son Jeremy’s first dosing of chlorine dioxide on YouTube. In the 30-second video, Jeremy, 27, sits at a kitchen table as his mother narrates his mood. Then his arms seem to involuntarily twist around one another and he screams into his forearm before taking a bite of a banana, NBC News reports.

“Here’s to hoping and praying,” she says.

Austin, 51, is a photographer in Lenexa, Kansas, and a mother of six, four of whom are adults with autism. For the last year, according to her social media posts and documents from a police investigation, Laurel Austin has been giving two of her adult sons, Jeremy and Joshua, chlorine dioxide. The Food and Drug Administration warns the solution amounts to industrial bleach, and doctors say it can cause irreparable harm when ingested, including damage to the digestive system and kidneys.

Since January, when Bradley Austin learned that his ex-wife was using chlorine dioxide on their sons, he’s been trying to stop her. But the local police, the state’s division of adult protective services and a medical doctor treating Jeremy have all declined to intervene. A police spokesman said there wasn’t enough evidence that chlorine dioxide was dangerous. A caseworker with the Kansas Adult Protective Services told police that she didn’t see the situation as serious enough for the state to take action.

The Austins’ case illustrates the ways in which online health misinformation can become so pervasive that it begins to sway not only those on the fringe who are seeking alternate treatments and explanations but also authorities.

Contact Us